This post was first published as the second part of a longer post about using narrative in teaching and learning. Part one talked about encouraging students to “tell the story” of their lessons. This part talks about how I experimented with using narrative in lesson observations.
As a relatively new director of studies in quite a large school (40+ teachers), I wanted to get to know my teachers – and the students – inside the classroom as well as out. But of course this meant arranging observations, and we all know that – unfortunately – observations can be fairly fraught. They carry a lot of baggage with them. The thought, and of course, the fact, of being observed can be stressful. I really didn’t want to stress my busy, hardworking staff anymore than was necessary, but I really, really wanted to be allowed to share their teaching experiences, to have an insider’s view of their classes. And at the time I wanted to lessen the stress as much as possible.
So I explained that what I was interested in was not an observation as such, but just a “taster”.
A taster? Yes, a kind of “moment in time”, fly-on-the wall view of the school from the inside.
I explained that they could choose the class I came to watch. And that I didn’t need to know anything about the class, the students or the lesson, before I came in. Of course, if there was anything they wanted to tell me about the class beforehand, I was happy – and very interested- to hear it. But I was equally happy and interested to come into the lesson completely “in the dark”.
And, of course, if there was something (or someone) they wanted me to look out for in particular, obviously that was fantastic. But, no, basically, I did not want a plan.
What no lesson plan? No, I wanted the teachers, as much as possible, to do what they always did. I didn’t want them to waste precious time and energy completing pro formas, or planning something out of the ordinary. What I wanted to see was a “snippet” – an “episode” – in the life and dynamic of their classes.
I explained that I would then write up my impressions of the class, the group, the lesson, the dynamics and we could share those impressions and talk about them after the class. In effect, I was going to write the story of the lesson.
I don’t know that it lessened the stress immediately, but as the process got under way ( I started with the more outgoing teachers, the ones who showed most interest in my experiment) and word got round, I think it did help – at least a little.
The stories followed a fairly rigid format. I kicked off with a description of the class, level, size, personalities, group dynamics, things I liked about it, things I found interesting, and a couple of questions to ask about them.
I then gave a description of what I saw happening in the class from a learning point of view. I commented on any activities or stages that were particularly successful. I asked a few – genuine – questions about teaching decisions, and student reactions.
I’d finish off with a kind of profile of the teacher, their classroom personality, their strengths, and any surprises (some teachers are such different people, or at least show such a different sides to their personality in class). I wish I could find an example to show you – but it was so long ago, so many dead laptops back in time
After the class we’d meet, I’d hand the teacher my notes, my story, and then we’d discuss my impressions. How accurate were they? What did I miss? Was the class functioning as normal? Why? why not? And we discussed dynamics, and interaction and often our discussions opened up into general discussions about teaching, and teacher motivation and plans for the future.
For me, it was a huge success. I really felt I knew the teachers much better, I knew the school better, I knew our students better. And I really think it helped create an even more positive atmosphere in the staffroom.
Stories – they’re just great 🙂